Hawaii County’s Department of Environmental Management said it was ready to ditch long-standing plans to build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant worth $ 160 million in Kealakehe on the island’s west coast.
Ramzi Mansour, director of environmental management, said he was looking for a much simpler and cheaper alternative. Rather than building a millionfold sand-filtered wastewater treatment plant with a focus on R1 water – the highest quality recycled water – Mansour wants to produce R2 water that can still be used for golf courses and agricultural irrigation at a fraction of the price.
“We’re not going to spend the $ 160 million, and that in itself is a relief,” Mansour said this week, shortly after the Cabinet of Hawaii Mayor Mitch Roth attended a forum on what the government said in the first 100 Days. “Depending on operating techniques and health department approvals, we can potentially do this in tens of millions instead of hundreds of millions.”
R2 water is a step away from R1 water but still very useful.
Mansour said the department’s short-term goal is to study the techniques for treating R-2 water – or better, R-1 water – without major improvements to the facility, and obtain the appropriate permits for those discharge levels as soon as that happens the case is.
“We can do it,” said Mansour recently on a tour of the wastewater treatment plant.
Then it’s just a matter of finding users for the R2 water. Nearby golf courses and farmers are high on this list and discussions are ongoing.
“I would say we are very close,” said Mansour. “We’re still monitoring results in wastewater … We’re already on R2 water, even better.”
Golf courses and farmers were high on the list of potential users during the previous administration, when the $ 160 million plan focused on creating R1 water. However, part of that plan was for the treated water to be passed through a sand filter system, which added to the cost.
According to the department’s former director, grants have been identified to finance part of the construction of the facility.
Even so, the new director said the investment was over-targeting given the reality of Hawaii’s people and finances.
“Who is going to fund a $ 160 million project?” Asked Mansour. “In any case, the district does not have the means. That’s almost half of the district’s budget. “
The year-long process of designing and planning has already exceeded $ 11 million. These plans now seem destined to sit on a shelf.
Mansour pointed out that it is still possible to save money and not sacrifice the product because the facility is able to process high quality recycled water.
In essence, the science is already there.
R-1 water is recycled wastewater that has been oxidized, filtered and disinfected so it can be safely used in a variety of ways. These include irrigation plants, pastures, parks and golf courses, for washing surfaces, and for decorative purposes such as filling water fountains. R-2 water is similarly oxidized and disinfected, but not filtered. It can be used to irrigate some – but not all – food crops underground, as well as pastures, golf courses, and parks. This is exactly what the new government wants to do with the supply of Kealakehe.
The plant can process 5.3 million gallons of wastewater per day, but averages less than 2 million gallons. It has approximately 1,700 user connections. The $ 160 million cost to move the facility to R-1 water included $ 35 million for groundwater treatment, $ 25 million for an underground wetland, and $ 20 million for pipelines.
“Let’s invest money in the operational techniques,” said Mansour, who served as the director of sewage treatment and disposal on behalf of the Honolulu director of environmental services before joining Roth’s cabinet after the election. “We could get $ 160 million (worth).”
The wastewater is currently being treated by five aerated lagoons and then discharged into a swamp where it seeps through the ground. At this point, it’s R-2 quality, Mansour said.
So it’s all about banning users.
With this in mind, Mansour hopes more potential users will contact his office. He is certain that enough farmers and landowners in rural, sprawling Hawaii County could make good use of the water.
The department also has its hands full repairing about 7,000 cesspools in Hawaii County that need to be addressed.
Property owners in the southeastern part of the island, where cesspools predominate, are being asked to connect to sewers at expensive prices, at least $ 250,000 per household. Mansour said the department is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to find a cheaper solution.
The department is working with several government agencies to get the right approvals for their new, cheaper destinations. The Kealakehe facility currently complies with state and federal environmental requirements. The county is overseeing a US Supreme Court ruling in a similar dismissal situation in Maui that could affect the approval process.
Still, Hawaii County’s new top team said they were pleased with their progress in cutting back on expensive plans for more realistic and affordable solutions.
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